Category Archives: Resources

Connect with Content – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

It’s Monday morning, and I spent a few minutes this morning mulling over my weekend reading. Saturday morning found me, coffee in hand, perusing the New York Times for the latest news. Saturday I also reviewed some websites about fixing a running toilet and finished a mystery I’ve been working on this week. Sunday I spent some time reading about how to fix florescent lights, started reading a book on life for Colonial Women, researched a fix for a problem with my Google Classroom, read some lesson plans on teaching language skills and read the first few pages of a new mystery. You may be noticing a trend – three fourths of my weekend reading was non-fiction. Take a minute and think about your own life as a reader. How much non-fiction do you typically read compared to fiction? Most adults read more non-fiction, so I suspect you will find that to be true for yourself as well.

When I was reading those websites about fixing things in my house, I used lots of essential skills like skimming and scanning that don’t work well in fiction but are essential for non-fiction reading. I don’t have time to read an entire blog post that won’t answer my questions, so I skimmed the headings, scanned the text and found my answers. (If you’re wondering, the toilet is fixed and the electrician will be here Wednesday!). I used the Table of Contents to help me find the lesson plans that my students need, and the captions and photos helped me digest and understand the news in the newspaper. The CCSS call for equal reading of fiction and non-fiction, and even if your standards don’t include that requirement, it’s important that intermediate grades step up with non-fiction to prepare our students for a successful adult life.

I’ve written about the importance in other posts. Be sure to check out Nab Some Non-fiction – a post about 5 essential non-fiction picture books to start with and also some of my reviews of other great non-fiction texts (Click the Biblio-files tab for all the links!) And this post from the ASCD website clearly explains why non-fiction matters. Non-fiction reading not only helps students prepare for their adult life, it improves their reading comprehension, builds vocabulary, and increases grades in science and social studies classes. And still, most of us struggle to bring in enough non-fiction. My district adopted reading program includes only about 10% non-fiction, nowhere near the 50% required my state standards.

So, how do we fill the gap? How do we get kids jazzed about non-fiction, and hook them on content? One strategy I’ve used to bring more non-fiction text to my classroom is Digital Escape Rooms!

Why Digital Escape Rooms?

Well, first and foremost, Escape Rooms are fun! But why digital, you ask? Kids are already spending too much time on screens. Shouldn’t we move away from that every chance we get?

Well, yes and no. The first Escape Room I tried was a paper and pencil format. It took me approximately 2 hours to copy, cut, stuff the envelopes, place them around the room, gather the boxes, locks, etc., and get things set up. For me, that time commitment is not practical, so I turned to digital Escape Rooms. Kids get all the fun of an Escape Room and you have no prep. That’s right, no prep! Just assign through your Google Classroom (click here for a blog post with step by step instructions) or other LMS and then watch the fun! And, you get automatic results if you use a Google Form Escape Room. The digital format makes this a more practical option, which means you’ll use it frequently. Your students will be doing a lot of reading, and they will also gain practice with the riddles and ciphers embedded in Escape Rooms, helping them be more successful!

The amount of non-fiction text in a digital Escape Room can vary, so if that is your goal, make sure you check it out carefully. This digital Escape Room about the States of Matter includes an embedded non-fiction text that teaches the science content and then asks students to answer questions about the text to unlock the doors. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

This Google Form Escape Room contains both fiction and non-fiction texts in addition the story that carries students through the adventure. One fiction text is a traditional Irish myth about the formation of the Giant’s Causeway and the other is a retelling of a traditional tale about a leprechaun. The non-fiction text is a biography of St. Patrick. All of the texts include comprehension questions that help students move to the next section of the adventure. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

Adventure in the Chocolate Factory contains text and video about the history of chocolate, and the chemistry behind the making of the world’s favorite flavor. Again, the focus is on comprehension, and the questions help students focus on content. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

Digital Escape Rooms are an easy way to bring more non-fiction text into your classroom. I hope that you give one a try. I think you’ll love it, and so will your students! I’m always creating more Escape Rooms, so be sure to follow me on TPT and check back frequently to see what I’ve been cooking up!

Happy teaching!

Five Ways to Use Poetry – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Poetry is perfect for accomplishing many of your literacy goals. One of the great things about poetry is how short it is. You can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time! This blog post will feature 5 ways I use poetry in my classroom, with links to resources to help you do the same! (The FREEBIE is at the end, so read on!)

Close Reading

One good way to use poetry is for a close reading, especially if your students have not done them before. The purpose of a close reading is to teach students the skills they need to analyze a text deeply. Poetry is perfect for that because poems generally have a literal meaning that is readily apparent, but also a deeper meaning that emerges through close reading. Another reason poetry is terrific for a close reading is because the text is generally short, usually no more than a page. And finally, if a poem has rhythm and rhyme, it can make the text more accessible to students, and also more fun to reread. If your students hate the repeated readings required by close reading, try poetry!

In my classroom, I like to begin the year with poems about school, and our first close reading is of Mary Had a Little Lamb. We read the entire poem, not just the part that is generally known, and we also read a non-fiction text that tells the story of how the famous poem was written. Check out the Poetry Break – Poems about School Resource on TPT!

Vocabulary

Poetry is also perfect for teaching vocabulary. Many Tier 2 words (check out this blog post for more information) can be encountered in poetry. In this example from my Limericks Poetry Break, the context of the poetry helps students learn two Tier 2 words – brute and resembled.

Engagement

The rhythm and rhyme of poetry makes it perfect for getting students up and moving, which can be really important for engaging students who may not love the quiet sitting that often accompanies reading – especially boys. Poetry is meant to be read aloud, in fact, making it perfect for Task Cards like these, also from my Poetry Break – Limericks resource.

Loving Language

Finally, poetry can help your students fall in love with language. Similes, figurative language, hyperbole, alliteration, onomatopoeia…. These poetic devices help students find the beauty of English. And of course, these devices also show up in well written fiction and non-fiction, so learning to love the language and understand it through poetry increases student’s comprehension of other texts. For example, consider this poem, Sick by Shel Silverstein. This is a terrific example of hyperbole, and so fun for students. That poem is featured as a Poetry Break in Poems About School.

The alliteration and repetition in A Ring Upon her Finger by Christina Rossetti make this a great poem for easing in. If you, or your students, are nervous about poetry, give it a try with one of my print and teach units. These units include everything you need to help your student analyze poetry, write poetry, and learn to love poetry!

Poetry Breaks

I love fun and spontaneity in my classroom. One way I do that is with Poetry Breaks. A Poetry Break is exactly what is sounds like. I find a poem that I want to share with my students. Then, when they least expect it, I hold up the Poetry Break paddle, and read them a poem. We talk about it briefly, and then I reread the poem. Then, we return to our regularly scheduled lesson. Eventually, I give the paddle to a student and ask them to plan a Poetry Break. They LOVE it, and it gets them reading LOTS of poetry! Want to try it in your classroom? Download this FREEBIE which includes an overview of the strategy and a Poetry Break paddle of your own – everything you need to bring poetry to your classroom!

Take a Break for Poetry today! You’ll be glad you did!

Happy teaching

Susan

Using Google Forms for Asynchronous Learning

Maybe you don’t have this problem, but one challenge that I am facing is attendance during digital learning. For a whole host of reasons (technology snafus, motivation, family situations….) some kids struggle to attend our Zooms. And they tend to be the same kids who struggle academically. In my experience, one thing that motivates this population, and all of my students, is videos. The visual and auditory components are engaging, and if they are between 3-5 minutes, attention doesn’t lag. I’ve started pairing short videos with Google Forms as asynchronous learning so that all students, even those that don’t attend regularly, are receiving instruction. Pairing the video with a Google Form gives students an immediate opportunity to put what they’ve learned to use. When we return to in person instruction, I still think these will be invaluable tools to help remediate and extend students. I can see so many ways to easily differentiate by assigning students the video instruction and Google Forms that move them to the next stage.

In my TPT store, you can find many of the videos I’ve created with Google Forms. I’ve focused on upper elementary math, especially fractions so far. Be sure to check back because I’m always expanding this part of my store, mostly as I try to help my students regain lost ground. I teach fifth grade, so that’s why the content is mostly upper elementary. If this is something that you want to use often, I encourage you to look at this Growing Bundle focused on Fractions and save money!

In this blog post, I want to walk through one of the free resources on my TPT store so that you can get an understanding of how it works and whether this type of resource is a good choice for your classroom. The resource we will be exploring is Mixed Numbers and Fractions Greater than One (Improper Fractions). At the bottom of the blog post are links to many other similar resources that you might find helpful.

This resource includes a Google Form and an embedded video. If you’d like to preview the video, you can find it on my YouTube channel here.

When you download this free resource, TPT will automatically add it to your Google Drive. Make sure that you have signed in with the Google Drive where you want the file to be saved – usually your school account. If you are assigning the Google Form through Google Classroom or another district LMS like Seesaw, this is essential!

To preview the assignment and video, you will want to open the Google Form and view it as a student. The video does not play in the teacher view. To see the student view, click on the eye in the upper right hand corner, which I’ve circled in red in this image.

Once you are in the student view, you will be able to play the video. You can also give the Google Form a try and easily see what your students will experience. One of the things I love about Google Forms is the immediate feedback that students receive! And the teacher does too, so no grading!

Once a student completes the Google Form and submits their answer, they will be able to see their score immediately and also receive feedback about anything they missed. Learning theory tells us that just-in-time feedback is so important for learning, and Google Forms are one of the best tools I know for providing that just-in-time feedback. In this example, you can see that the student identified the fraction greater than one as 4/6, but the Google Form would accept either 7/6 or 1 1/6 as the correct answers.

One limitation on Google Forms is how exact the students have to be. Again, in this example, you can see that I’ve given exact instructions for leaving a space between the whole number and the fraction if students write a mixed number. Google Forms will count it incorrect if there is no space. As the teacher, you are able to modify the score if you need to. For example, if you don’t care about the space, you can easily go back and change the points.

To see the students’ results, and change the points if you want to, you will need to go to the Response View. Begin by clicking Responses, which is the top middle of the screen, circled in red in this image.

In this view you can easily see how your students are doing with this standard. Google breaks the data down into a class summary, which is fantastic for planning next stages for the whole class. Google also gives you question by question data and individual student data. To change points or grade a question, click “Question” in the center of the screen.

As you can see, in this example, 1 student left out the space, so that 1 1/6 looks like 11/6. If you would like to give that student credit, just click the green check mark and then save your changes with the red save button. Google Forms will automatically update the student’s score. If more than one student made that mistake, it will update all the scores with two clicks. Easy breezy!

I don’t have room in this blog post to go through all of the fantastic data that you get from Google Forms. Be sure to play around with it and explore. All this great data frees you from grading so you can do what you do best – plan for amazing instruction!

After you have analyzed your data in Google Forms, you may want it in a spreadsheet so that you can easily enter grades in a gradebook. That’s easy too! Let’s explore a few more options from Google Forms.

In the upper right hand corner, you will find a green icon that allows you to easily export your data as a spreadsheet. When you click the green icon, you will see this message, which allows you to merge the data with an existing spreadsheet or name it and create a new spreadsheet. The default name is the name of the Google Form.

Simply name the spreadsheet and then click create. That’s it!

Some other great features are embedded in the three dots to the right of the spreadsheet icon. When you click them, you get this menu. Again, you can download the responses from here. You can also set a time for the Google Form to stop accepting responses. This is really a great feature if you are using a Google Form as a quiz. Probably the feature I use most often is Delete All Responses. Once I have downloaded the data, I delete the responses so that the Form is clear and ready for the next class.

One final piece of troubleshooting advice. By default, the Form is set to receive responses. However, below the three dots you will see an option to toggle the Form’s ability to Accept Responses. If that is toggled to the off position, your students will not be able to complete the Form. That is probably the question I receive most often, so when you are having trouble, check to make sure your Form can Accept Responses! You will know it is toggled to “On” when it changes color.

I hope this post helps you know whether Google Forms are a good choice for your classroom. For more information on this topic, check these blog posts:

Here are just a few of my Google Forms with embedded videos for you to check out. As always, Happy Teaching!

Encounter by Jane Yolen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book feels especially timely because Columbus has been folded into the ongoing conversations that we are having about race. The other day I overheard a fellow teacher explaining that she understood why we were pulling down the statues of Confederate soldiers, but why pull down statues of Columbus? If you (or your students, or your students’ parents) are wondering the same thing, this is the book for you.

The arrival of Columbus in the Americas led to the Columbian exchange, which caused the genocide of the indigenous people. I know that word genocide is harsh, but I looked it up in the dictionary. It is the correct word for “the deliberate killing of a group of people”. This book uses the scant facts we know about the Taino people (mostly from Columbus since the Taino people are extinct) and the author’s imagination to paint a picture of the beginning of that extinction.

I have loved this book since the first time I read it. Told from the point of view of a Taino boy, (the Taino were the indigenous people who first encountered Columbus), it is a new look at some old history. Definitely, put it on the top shelf! The words are lyrical and there is a rhythm, and a feeling of music, to many of them. David Shannon created absolutely marvelous illustrations that connect you to the long-gone Taino culture. Which brings us to our first teaching point.

  1. How illustrations enhance the mood or tone of a story – The final illustration is very powerful. It shows the narrator, now an old man. At first you notice his posture and the setting. As you look more closely, you notice that parts of the setting show through him, as if he is transparent, and his feet fade into nothingness. This is definitely a magic-paper worthy illustration! (What! You don’t know about magic paper? Read on!) Put the illustration under the doc camera and ask students to start with what they notice. No inferences yet, please. As they share the things they notice, hold a piece of white paper (cardstock if you have it) about a foot out from the projection and it will be magnified. Ta da! Magic paper! After students have noticed, I would ask them to turn and talk to share their wonders. Again, no inferences yet. Just questions. Finally, I would ask, “Why did the illustrator draw the final illustration this way? What is he trying to say?” Then, using their observations as evidence, and their questions to guide them, they will make some inferences about this. Along the way, you will probably have a very rich conversation about tone and mood!

2. Point of view/perspective – This is a great text to talk about different perspectives. I like to contrast the boy’s view of the explorers with Columbus’ own writings about the Taino people. His journals are readily available online, and at the bottom of this post I’ve put the excerpt that you can use. It is from his first meeting with the Taino, and there are clear comparisons between what he actually said and what the narrator of Encounter says. Some fascinating conversations can be had!

3. Symbolism – On the first page the narrator dreams of large winged white birds that descend upon the village. The illustration helps even the most concrete thinker understand that the ships are the birds. It is a great symbol to explore, and it carries the narrative.

This book is a really great addition if you are looking to bring new perspectives to your tired, old explorer unit. I recommend it for students in grades 3 – 6. Younger than that will miss some of the nuance, but it is a great book to bring that Age of Discovery unit alive.

Be sure to check out some of my other recent posts about great resources to use with kids to help them understand other perspectives.

Intersection Allies

A Girl Like Me by Kiri Davis

Satchel Paige – Striking Out Jim Crow

Wander Words

As you know, teaching vocabulary is near and and dear to my heart. And I love to do it in a playful way whenever possible. I’m always trying to figure out a fun way to engage my students in word play, and Wander Words is the newest craze in my classroom.

Wander Words is pretty simple. The word “wanders” around, and students have to decode it. The word can start anywhere, and can travel horizontally or vertically in any direction. Each word comes with a sentence to give context. For example:

Everyone knows that Ms. Cotton’s favorite cookie is a _________.

Students would connect the letters to spell Snickerdoodle.

I’ve been using these cards in my classroom to help students step up their writing by using more scholarly transitions, and they are having a blast!

This is a really fun activity that exposes students to lots of Tier 2 words. I’ve created sets of task cards, with and without QR codes, that give students practice with lots of great scholarly words. My March 2020 freebie is a great set of these cards to practice scholarly transitions for writing. Be sure to download them today!

You can get other Wander Words Task Cards in my TPT store. Click to go straight there!

STEM adventure!

I am really fortunate to have a principal who supports me in attending a national or regional conference every year. This year, my whole team got to go to the regional NSTA (National Science Teaching Association) conference, and I was really inspired to jump into STEM! I had dabbled before, but the conference helped me see how to take the next step. What I really wanted was something that tied to my required curriculum, and also intentionally taught my students about Engineering Design Principles. I was looking for something more than an opportunity for kids to play around with cardboard and gadgets. Here’s what we did.

Students built background knowledge with a Gallery Walk.

I decided to incorporate required social studies standards about Native Americans, required math standards about subtracting and multiplying decimals and required science content about climates. We began with a Gallery walk including maps and pictures of traditional Native American Homes. Students worked in teams of 4 to look at a group of 2-3 pictures and record things they notice and things they wondered. After a few minutes they rotated to a new group of pictures. We also read an article about the First Americans to arrive that focused on the land bridge theory and the ways different cultures adapted to different climates. I wrote the text at three different levels so that all of my learners could access the information. We used a close reading protocol , so spent three days working with the vocabulary and ideas in the text. You can get the text and the Gallery walk maps and pictures in my TPT store here.

After my fifth graders had developed an understanding that people have adapted to different environments by using the available resources, we learned about the Engineering Design Process. We had gone through it before, but I created these posters so that my students could begin to internalize the steps. (The posters are free on TPT!) Then I put my students in groups of three. (I use an Excel spreadsheet to randomize the groups.) Each group randomly chose a climate card and a lifestyle card. The climate cards match the standard climates (Mediterranean, Tropical, Tundra, Arid, Temperate). They have two choices for lifestyles: permanent and nomadic. The challenge is to build a shelter that matches the climate and the lifestyle. So, a group might be building a permanent shelter for an arid climate, or a temporary shelter for a Mediterranean climate.

After we had explored the challenge together, each group got additional research materials: a short description of the climate including some of the natural resources, an analysis of each available building material’s Pros and Cons, and a list of the cost of each resource. The cost varies by climate because some resources are more difficult to get in different climates. The groups took a day to take notes from their research materials.

Then I guided students through the Engineering Design Process using the Student Guide. They completed the first few steps together, and then I met in a five minute conference with each group. The conference is essential! I used that as an opportunity to make sure that each student was involved in the planning process and understood the essential content about the climate.

Many groups had designed a traditional native home based on what they had learned about, and had not taken into account the climate and/or the lifestyle. For example, one group had chosen the tundra with a nomadic lifestyle. They initially planned to build a tepee, which was great for a nomadic lifestyle but a tepee in the tundra is not a suitable match! By meeting with that group, I was able to ask questions that helped them uncover that difficulty and they changed their design. Flexibility is a key attribute that I try to teach my students any chance I get!

Then, it was time to build! I gave students one hour to create their shelters. The next day I gave them one hour to test their design and improve it. All of the groups improved their design, so I felt really good about that! The final day of the project we invited parents and key staff (like my principal – always good to let him know that his PD dollars paid off!) to come to our presentations. Two students presented while one student from each group rotated to see the other groups. Then we switched, so after 3 rotations, everyone had seen the other projects. Each student left feedback for the other projects and then the projects went home.

Each student turned in an individual reflection, budget and self-assessment of their Habits of Mind, which I used to grade the project. I did grade the actual shelter, although you could. I focused my grading and feedback on the individual analysis of the features of the building and the individual student’s assessment of the design.

My students really loved this project, and so did my parents and my principal. I loved the way we brought together essential content and Habits of Mind like flexibility, innovation and problem solving. I purchased or found these materials for this project: clay, pipe cleaners, styrofoam, cardboard, hemp string, leather remnants and glue. My total cost for the class was under $20.00. All of the resources you need to complete this project are available at my TPT store. If you try this project or have suggestions for how to improve it, please leave comments.

Differentiation

Fifteen years ago, my dad told me that personalization was going to be the name of the game in education. As usual, he was right. What he calls personalization, we call differentiation. And it’s hard to do well. One of the things that I’ve struggled with is making differentiation easy for the teacher but not blatant to the student. We all know those students that shut down when they realize they are not at the same level as the others. That’s why I’ve started writing resources that look the same, but are at different Lexile levels. As Fountas and Pinnell have said repeatedly, a level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label. Read their blog post for more on that. https://fpblog.fountasandpinnell.com/a-level-is-a-teacher-s-tool-not-a-child-s-label  

My goal with these resources is that you will easily be able to teach essential and/or interesting content while simultaneously differentiating the reading level for your students. And, they will be practicing on-grade level comprehension standards at the same time. Give them a try, and let me know what you think. Also, what other topics would you like to see? I’m working on one about the Northwest Native Americans right now, and have a couple of other ideas, but I’d love to hear from you about what you need!

Click here to go to my TPT store where you can buy leveled texts. If you follow me on TPT, I will email you whenever I post freebies on my blog! In the meantime, please enjoy this freebie Biography about Neil Armstrong (only available here – on TPT, you have to pay!). There are three Lexile levels – 800, 900 and 1,000. In the Common Core State Standards grade bands, 800 is about the middle of fourth grade, 900 is about the middle of fifth grade and 1,000 is about the middle of sixth grade. I hope this helps you teach essential and interesting content and differentiate at the same time!

Happy teaching!

Susan